The staff of Art in Bloom Gallery were meeting on Zoom last month when they were visited by artist Joanne Geisel. Known for her impressionistic paintings of maritime and beach scenes, Geisel mentioned an idea she had about local artists’ sharing their experiences during COVID-19. Art in Bloom employees Dave Klinger and Brook Bower ran with the idea, and the “COVID-19 Studio Views” series was born.
The concept is simple: Artists share photos of their workspaces on Art in Bloom’s website, along with a short personal reflection about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their work. Gallery owner Amy Grant says contributors are not given any specific guidelines; instead, each entry is intended to be a true reflection of the artist.
“Throughout history, studio visits have provided in-depth, personal and engaging ways to treasure art,” says Grant. “In the time of COVID-19, the studio view is especially comforting and vibrant as art and artists continue to thrive despite the difficult situation.”
To date, four artists have shared their spaces on the site, with at least nine others on the way. Among those forthcoming are encaustic painter Helen Lewis (June 3), pastel artist Jeri Greenberg (June 10), ceramicists Brian and Dianne Evans (June 12), and painter and metal artist Gale Smith (June 15).
The series offers a fascinating look at creative life under COVID-19. In one entry, painter Angela Rowe describes returning home from a trip to San Francisco in mid-March only to find herself distracted and unable to work. Eventually, a tip from a friend led to a breakthrough: she discovered she could paint if she listened to audiobooks from the library. An accompanying photo of her colorful workspace in Acme Art Studios serves as a testament to her newfound productivity.
Other entries are even more poignant and speak to the power of art to combat the deep grief associated with COVID-19. In a post slated for June 8, painter and New York native Joan McLoughlin shares her experience connecting with her 11-year-old niece over art. After multiple family members contracted the novel coronavirus, McLoughlin arranged for her niece to visit her studio via FaceTime, where the two spent over an hour discussing each other’s art. Afterward, the girl’s mother told McLoughlin it was the most her daughter had spoken since the quarantine began.
A similar vein of vulnerability and generosity carries through each of the entries, and helps explain the series’ appeal. There is also an aspect of voyeurism: In witnessing the artists’ cluttered studios, many of which are captured mid-creation, there is a feeling of being invited into one’s most private moments.
Grant describes a similar dynamic when remembering her late mother, the artist Hannah Barr Grant.
“Any table became a workspace,” Grant says of her childhood home. “I remember how she would find a piece of paper and would sketch her answers to my questions, such as, ‘What does the world look like outside of an airplane window?’ [or] ‘How do I make cats march from the front of the paper to mountains in the distance?’ She always answered my questions with such joy and delight.”
While “COVID-19 Studio Views” is currently scheduled to last until June 19, Grant says there has already been talk of expanding the offerings, including the potential inclusion of short videos that could be posted to the site and shared via social media. Regardless of its future, the series is a welcome reminder to find moments of stillness and tranquility amid uncertainty.
“Against all of these changes, I do not know if this is the most beautiful spring ever—or if I was just finally forced to stop and look,” writes Rowe in her May 27 entry. “We sit on our back porch and marvel at the incredible spring weather, watch the hawks hunting, and look for the bats that come out each night. So as the world is changing, inside an artist’s studio, not much is different.”
Art in Bloom is currently open by appointment only by calling 484-884-3037, or via its website at aibgallery.com/artists. The gallery is also partnering with downtown restaurants The Basics and Foxes Boxes. Those who purchase more than $200 of art from Art in Bloom will receive a $25 credit for takeout at either restaurant (purchases of less than $200 come with a $10 credit). Names will be provided to The Basics and Foxes Boxes after purchasing, so customers can order and pick up food directly from the restaurants.